Wednesday, October 19, 2016

as a child of 25

Hey Guys,

I tweeted part this quote a while back but I think it'll be an appropriate start to a random post after 2+ years of silence:

“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all.”

I am slightly ashamed to admit it, but I didn't really know who Richard Feynman was prior to spring of 2015. I remember seeing a poster of him in Derrick's (my boyfriend) room. Derrick told me how much he looked up to Feynman. I thought it was endearing but I didn't really relate. That was until he played a clip "The Beauty of the Flower". Now, I am sure my admirance of RF will never match that of Derrick's, but it grabbed me in a way I hadn't felt in a long time. It was the passion of science. When I started this blog, that's what I wanted to share with my readers. Have anecdotes about my life spotted between discussing science related news or papers. Give a perspective of my journey as a young woman of science while learning something that might sprout someone's own desire to go into STEM.

However, as time progressed, the blog posts dwindled as I grew into my new life at UMass - the last post being the start of my 2nd year as a graduate student. I was 23. Now 25, the cliche of "a life time ago" has never been more true for me. For example: that idea I had posted about for my essay assignment of April 2014? That ended up being the basis of my Preliminary Comprehensive Examination - which I passed last year. Now I am working on my prospectus and dissertation projects. How the heck did that happen?

I was scared shitless at my first dissertation committee meeting this past May. I wanted to make a good impression on the members- show them my plan of action with confidence and have it be a feasible goal by the summer of 2019 (the year my funding runs out from the EPA STAR Fellowship). Spending hours going over my presentation and reviewing literature that related to my projects, I felt relatively confident on any questions they may have thrown at me regarding my work.

However, I wasn't expecting personal questions.

In the middle of discussing hypotheses and approaches, one of the members looked at me and asked, "What do you want out of this?"

I just sort of looked at him. I haven't been asked that in so long I wasn't really sure. Or, to be honest, I think with my realization the winter before that life never goes as planned, I subconsciously decided I would just go with whatever doors happened to be open when the time arrived. Sure, I wanted to go into industry, and that was the usual answer I gave when people asked what I wanted to do.

But before I could answer, he clarified: "What do you want out of your research? Is it just a degree? Because we can help you with that. If you want more out of it we can help you with that too, but you need to let us know what your goals are."

That's when it hit me. And in a split second I had a whirlwind of thoughts (brace yourself- rambles about to occur): I had been so goal oriented before when I worked on my research as an undergraduate at UNH, especially my freshmen and sophomore year under the mentoring of Dr. Farag. I thought big picture (maybe even too big/long term). I had drive. Not to say I didn't currently have drive, I had been busting my ass and wanted to do well in the Ph.D. program. It was the drive of taking my research beyond the lab, beyond R&D. To be an entrepreneur. Over the years I had been so discouraged between some poor advisors, personal challenges, and now with recent lab results (all negative) that I had been lowering the bar over time until finally having the end goal of just graduating with some papers. What I didn't realize was, that as I was doing that, I was lowering my passion.

What did I want out of this?

I took a deep breath and looked at him. What would that 18-19 year old me want for me?

I will never forget the feeling before I answered him. I was mustering everything in me, any ounce of passion that had been buried for so long. I felt my shoulders turn in and my chest rise heavily and tighten. My stomach flipped. And for a millisecond, a flicker of heat hit my heart and my eyes focused on him. The words came out shaky at first, like an old record that had been stored in the attic: slightly warped, slightly scratched, but the was music there.

"I want my research to make an impact. I want to see it translate to an industrial scale. I want to make that happen. I want more than just the degree and a few papers."

He nodded his head. "Okay then."

Richard Feynman was a brilliant man. "Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do." Four months later, I am happy to say I've listened to that piece of advice. I began to truly enjoy my work again and in turn, lab results began to shift from negative to positive. I made an effort to continue hobbies like biking and hiking, while picking up others like snorkeling, making life fuller. The heavy weight of being under a time line lifted. Yes, I still have to graduate by May 2019 to be a Doctor of Philosophy, but it's what I want to do between now and then that I am focusing on: to see all the intricacies of what makes a flower beautiful.

So with that, I'd like to begin to post more often here. Share some science, some life experiences, and of course, some recipes. Let's give them something to talk about, alright?